Saturday, October 13, 2012


III. Films as Hot Buttons:

Continuing from yesterday's post, how do films create and resolve conflict, once we have common scenes for analysis? First,the characters and settings in films often give rise to powerful emotions unconsciously. The case of the classic German director Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel presents these hot buttons quite vividly in The International Dictionary of Flims and Filmmakers vol. 1 : “By choosing a turn of the century setting, von Sternberg placed the story in his own childhood, and decorated it with images of his own adolescent eroticism.”8 (Pendergast, et. al, 1997, pg. 130) Von Sternberg, then a married man, had somewhat of a sexual obsession with the actress Marlene Dietrich, for whom she represented his erotic adolescence. Thus, films mirror the dreamworld in that they become a safe venue for expressing previously repressed memories, and “unacceptable” emotions.

     Second, as I have written before with support for this theory by Freud and McLuhan, films likewise represent desires and strong emotions, and some may not come up consciously. These are called "hot buttons". Again, the important question is to ask why some "button" is being "pushed". However, this does not relate to the options for mutual gain, but to explicating conflicting emotions so that both parties can begin to negotiate. To provide a more concrete example, let me return to Star Wars. Luke Skywalker getting his hand chopped off with a lightsaber could invoke a sense of awe or a sense of dread and helplessness. Why? What does the hand mean? As Morton Deutsch states: “It is wise to recognize that you, as well as the other, have hot buttons that, if pressed, are likely to evoke strong emotions. The emotions evoked may be anxiety, anger, rage, fear, depression, withdrawal, and so on. It is important to know your own hot buttons and how you tend to react when they are pressed, so that you can control your reactions in that event.” 9(Deutsch et. al 2006, pg. 36) At this point, it is possible that the emotions may be purged, explained, and negotiated. Perhaps one party feels as though its “hand” in the situation is removed. If both parties feel this way, all the better, because they both have an allegory to relate to, and will respond in a style empathetic to Luke’s character when hot buttons are pushed: “It’s okay. Let’s solve this like Jedis.”

There is, of course, a myriad of ways to interpret films, and a huge difference between Luke Skywalker and Leatherface, for example. As Moron Deutsch points out above, it is important to know how to react when hot buttons are pushed. Anger and aggression are hot buttons. So, if a man identifies with Freddie Krueger, and so does the other: Why?

Again, the advantage of films is the ability to create such emotions in an atmosphere analogous to soft negotiation. You have agreed on a film, and explained why. The viewers are willing to be friendly, as the solutions to conflict and the diffusion or expression of hot buttons usually takes place within the film’s narrative. (i.e. “I like when Freddie kills things; he’s so extreme!” means “I wish I could be as powerful as Freddie.”) The emotional nature of films brings out this wish-fulfilling principle, which parties can then identify as coping mechanisms for hot buttons. Typically, these hot buttons in films are in the movie itself. We know Darth Vader is the villain of Star Wars because of the bad things he does in the film. That is, the parties have agreed, in general, what buttons he pushes. Then, is the time for film evaluation, and how the film presents conflict. With the tool of the film as a desirable narrative, parties should be able to identify hot buttons in the film, and explain why they arise.

IV: Films as Desirable Outcomes: Conclusion

The principle of storytelling presented by films provides a context for negotiation to conclude. That is, “How do achieve the best outcome, and both come out as heroes?” The mythic-dream context of the film can be personally applied: “How can we both be bad asses like Scarface? What does he represent?” Though it appears that such answers are Jungian in origin, I believe the symbolic interpretation of film imagery to be fundamentally personal, and not to be taken as literal or absolute.

This is the beauty of films in negotiation. Once you realize that films have the potential to generate interests in metaphorical, dream-like quests, you automatically have a basis from which to negotiate, to plan strategies for mutual gain, and ultimately for a chance to examine positions and build trust. Behind the magic of movies is the practical knowledge of how to negotiate human desires and conflicts in a friendly, entertaining setting. It is the magic of dreams that enables us to see the positives in other people with whom we share common experiences. The point is that every individual has his own very special problem in this life crisis about what he or she has been doing. Since films speak to us in different ways, the key would be to explain why it speaks to us the way it is does, to mirror dreamworlds. Films merely provide a context and lexicon for conflict resolution; but it is one that is ancient and dream-giving: that of drama and the hero’s journey.

In conclusion, the mythic-dream context of films helps us sort through conflict through identification of emotions, desires, and film events. It is perhaps the most primal and creative and friendly way to express these repressed desires. As the parties negotiate, identification and trust is built through a premise of understanding events in the film and giving them an interpretation them to match the situation at hand. Simply put: It is the magic of movies that McLuhan attests to that glues us together to transform the viewers.

1. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Ed: Lewis H. Lapham. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA: 1994.

2. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Campbell, Joseph. Ed.: Flowers, Betty Sue. Knopf Publishing Group: 1991.

3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Ury et. al. 1981. Ed: Houghton Mifflin. New York, NY: 1991

4. A Short Guide to Writing About Film: Fifth Edition. Corrigan, Timothy. Temple University Press. Philadelphia, PA: 2004

5. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Kaufmann Walter. Chicago University Press. Chicago, IL: 1967.

6. Wadsworth World Classics in Literature: The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud, Sigmund. 1900. Ed: Hallstein, David. Wadsworth Publishers: London, UK: 1997.

7. Language in Thought and Action 5th Edition. Hiyakawa, S.I. Ed: Hiyakawa, A.R. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt, Brace, and Company: 1992

8. The International Dictionary of Flims and Filmmakers vol. 1: pg. 130-131 Der blaue Engel. Ed.: Pendergast, Tom. New York, NY: 1997.

9. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. Deutsch, Morton. Ed: Coleman, Peter T. Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco 2003.


No comments:

Post a Comment